Some would consider it ironic that as the Texas Stars held their Francis Wathier mini-bobblehad giveaway promotion on Jan. 26, the real-life Wathier was watching from the Cedar Park Center press box because he was out with an injury that had left his head, well, bobbled.
Wathier, the Stars’ 28-year-old center, missed 14 games — more than a month of the AHL season — after suffering a concussion during a Dec. 15 fight with Abbottsford defenseman Chris Breen.
He has returned to the Stars, but the concussion and time lost in recovery were eye openers for the four-year veteran.
“There was nothing special about the fight. It was like just about any other fight that I’ve had through the years,” Wathier said. “I did all I could to play through the headache, but I just never felt like I was myself, and it was a little scary.”
Wathier, accustomed to playing with pain, tried to shrug off the injury, which left him with a constant headache, and even played in the Stars’ next five games before shutting it down.
He had suffered concussions twice before after fights while playing junior hockey, but said he was always able to get back on the ice almost immediately. And he knows how to deal with injuries, having endured dislocated shoulders twice in his first three years as a professional player, when he played in Iowa.
But this one was a totally new experience for him. There would be days when he woke up feeling well, but then the headaches would return. He tried just about everything — including treatments by a chiropractor, an acupuncturist and a nutritionist who put him on a Gluten-free diet — and was examined by a neurologist, having the requisite MRI done in an attempt to return to action.
There’s an NHL protocol which the American Hockey League also uses to determine when a player can come back after suffering a concussion, said Scott White, the Texas Stars’ general manager. Wathier was monitored closely by D.J. Amadio, the Stars’ trainer, who would test Wathier daily for after-effects of the concussion.
Wathier scored his first goal of the season in his second game back from the injury.
“Every player’s recovery time is different, and Wathier’s situation was even moreso because he was able to pass a lot of the tests, but still had a headache that wouldn’t go away,” White said. “We wanted to be sure we erred on the side of caution. It was a tough time for the team because we needed him, and for Francis because he wanted to be back and playing, but he was smart about letting us know when he was really ready.”
The Stars, who sport the AHL’s best record with 27 games left in the regular season, play the Oklahoma City Barons in back-to-back home games Friday and Saturday.
“I’ve been back for a few games now, and I am still finding my game legs a little bit, but it’s all coming together,” Wathier said. “A big part of my game is being physical and fighting when it’s called for, and I won’t hesitate to play that same way just because I had a concussion.”
STARS WEEKEND SERIES
Texas Stars vs. Oklahoma City Barons, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7 Saturday